When news filtered that Zimbabwe had won the bid to co-host the 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly together with Zambia, I am one person who was so elated and said to myself, what a great opportunity to market Zimbabwe's tourism brand!
Zimbabwe had been declared the place to be, come 2013. I saw this as a vote of confidence for the nation. To me, Zimbabwe had been approved as a prime tourist destination. It's like the UN body was saying all international roads, railways, seas and airlines should be re-directed to an African country found in the Southern part of the continent, rightly named Zimbabwe. I felt like all the negative media publicity peddled by the so-called international media had been countered, shamed, proved wrong and shot down. The UNWTO listened to our bid on a professional basis and gave the nod for us to host on the merit of the strength of our bid.
Thumbs up to the bid task force led by Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Engineer Walter Mzembi. Congratulations and thank you Comrade. It is always satisfying to note that there are people like you who are working so hard to put Zimbabwe on the world map.
Gratitude also goes to the UNWTO for honouring Zimbabwe and Southern Africa in the process. I am sure the two hosts will not disappoint you at all. Zimbabwe and Zambia will certainly rise to the occasion come 2013.
The time to start preparing is now and I am glad Cde Mzembi and his Ministry has already alluded to this fact. Waiting until 2013 would obviously be disastrous. That the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry is working towards opening a permanent office in Victoria Falls to enable it to work with tour operators in the resort town ahead of the mega event is very commendable.
The Ministry's Permanent Secretary, Dr Sylvester Maunganidze has also said there is an urgent need for the expansion of Victoria Falls International Airport to enable it to handle more and bigger aircrafts. "We need to establish how the airport will handle the flights if 15 aircrafts are going to land within an hour and how long will the passengers wait to stamp their passports," he said.
What is clear therefore is the need for team work amongst all stakeholders to ensure that Zimbabwe maximises business opportunities through the hosting of this UN event. When Dr Maunganidze mentioned the issue of how long it will take for passports to be stamped, my mind thought of the Immigration Department. This department will have to upgrade its systems to improve its speed and efficiency at the ports of entry to ensure a smooth and hustle-free entrance and exit of our visitors before, during, and after the hosting of the UNWTO General Assembly in 2013.
News that government has identified land for the construction of a Convention Centre in Victoria Falls which will be used as the venue for the October 2013 UNWTO General Assembly, is also welcome. We hope the government will allocate funds for its construction through the 2012 National Budget which Minister Biti will be announcing later this month.
This writer trusts that architects and technical planners are already drawing the plan for the construction of the Convention Centre.
Why does this writer say preparation must start now? The nation does not have to wait until last minute because, as they say, the last minute is dangerous. Successful hosting of the UNWTO must begin now, come 2013 everything and everyone will be more than ready. Also, it has been reported that the United Nations World Tourism Organisation secretary general, Mr. Kaleb Rifai, will be in Zimbabwe in February 2012 (we only have December and January left) on a fact finding mission to ascertain the capacity of the country to host the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly.
Another reason for preparations to commence now is the revelations that a UN workshop which was meant to be held in another country has been re-directed to Victoria Falls this December following our successful bid; the Africa Travel Association Convention has also been re-directed to Victoria Falls in May 2012 and is set attract over 2 000 people from all over the world.
The above-mentioned events from December this year to May 2012 must be used to tell the world that Zimbabwe can indeed host the UNWTO General Assembly in 2013. The UN chief should leave this country without any doubt as to our capacity and ability to host the mega UN event.
Tourism stakeholders should now ensure that whatever they do, they go an extra mile in pronouncing a positive image of the country as it will now be under spotlight even on matters deemed minor. Recently, political parties have also come together to urge the nation to be committed to a violent-free society and such a society will be crucial in our bid to host the UNWTO in 2013. Every Zimbabwean has a role to play, particularly because whatever one does will always reflect on the country's image to the outside world.
Zimbabwe has many tourist attractions, some of which have never been exposed to the outside world and have the potential to become prime tourist destinations.
It is therefore laudable that the government of Zimbabwe recently declared the country a tourism zone, in a move that will ensure that all tourist attractions throughout the country receive more exposure and adequate resources to enable them to realise their full potential as prime tourist destinations.
The Great Zimbabwe Monuments, the National Heroes Acre, the Khami ruins, Lake Mutirikwi Dam wall, Mana pools, Nyanga and Vumba mountains, Pungwe Falls, Chinhoyi Caves, Kariba Dam wall, Birchenough Bridge, Lake Chivero, Hwange National Park, Gonarezhou National Park, Matopo National Park, Chipangali Game Park, Bulawayo Museum, Mazvikadei Dam, the Crocodile Farm in Victoria Falls, and the mighty Victoria Falls, are some of the nation's great tourist destinations which can be marketed aggressively ahead of the 2013 UNWTO General Assembly.
Aggressive marketing and lobbying can result in some delegates to the UN event coming earlier or remaining behind to enjoy Zimbabwe's tourist attractions, thereby ensuring the nation boosts its tourism revenue inflows. Research has shown that previous hosts of the UNWTO General Assembly managed to multiply their gross domestic product by 10 times from hosting the event. The business community must come together and find ways of maximising benefits of hosting the UN tourism event.
This writer being a journalist, it would be prudent at this juncture to urge all media organisations in this beautiful country, be they private or public, to unite in marketing
Zimbabwe as a safe and attractive tourist destination. The media should take a leading role in telling the true Zimbabwean story that has been distorted in the last decade by western media conglomerates.
The media as the fourth estate must be the face of the country and since the country has won the UNWTO bid, the media should write or broadcast profiles of the country's tourism facilities.
The arts sector will also come into play here. Local traditional dance groups must be engaged to entertain guests in all the country's tourist attractions, not just in Victoria Falls. This writer has had an opportunity to watch them at the Great Zimbabwe Monuments. Everyone must be on board for a successful hosting.
Zimbabweans, your hospitality is only second to none. This is one aspect all visitors to this great nation agree on. Let us continue to be hospitable and Zimbabwe will successfully co-host the October 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly with neighbours, Zambia. To all our visitors, welcome to Zimbabwe!